New Google search update raises privacy concerns

Two weeks ago Google changed the nature of search with its Search Plus Your World update which adds social media results to its search returns.

This evolution in the way search engines work is an acknowledgement of the fact that consumers continue to move their internet activity onto social media networks.  While the update was highly controversial in the tech world it is becoming increasingly clear that the modification could have major implications for pharma companies that have embraced Google’s own social network, Google Plus as a way to interact with the public.

On the positive side, early pharma adopters of Google Plus business pages will benefit from their content on the network gaining more traction in search returns which should drive more traffic to their online portals. However the update has also raised privacy concerns which could derail some companies carefully conceived Google Plus marketing strategies.

The big appeal for pharma marketing of Google Plus was the networks’ functionality allowing the allocation of an individual communication network to specific groups, the Circles feature. This allowed the companies to set up separate networks for each of their target markets, for example one for cancer another for circulation and so on.

Members of the public who joined the individual Circles were able to share experiences with others that were dealing with similar issues within a limited and empathetic environment. The problem with the Search Plus Your World update is that snippets of those conversations could now subject to a much wide distribution by appearing in search returns.

Pharma companies on Google Plus should be aware of the privacy issue and the effect of the new update.

Lloydspharmacy to offer digital drug-taking pack

Lloydspharmacy has teamed up with a US digital pharmaceutical company to offer a product aimed at helping patients keep on top of their pill-taking routines.

Proteus Biomedical has teamed with the chain of chemists to launch its first commercial product, Helius. Helius includes a mobile health app, sensor-enabled pills, and a peel-and-stick patch that patients wear on their body.

Lloydspharmacy will offer the Helius system as part of a personalised pack to customers who need help sticking to their drug regimen. The Helius packs will also include blister packs for each drug. For example, if a patient takes three pills a day, one blister pack will include these three pills along with a Helius tablet, which has an embedded sensor to track ingestion.

Helius is based on Proteus’ Raisin system, a similar group of apps and sensor-embedded tablets that is expected to roll out across Europe within the next few months.

Steve Gray, director of Lloydspharmacy Healthcare Services, said: “There is a huge problem with medicines not being taken correctly. Anyone taking several medications knows how easy it can be to lose track of whether or not you’ve taken the correct tablets that day.

“Add to that complex health issues and families caring for loved ones who may not live with them and you can appreciate the benefits of an information service that helps patients get the most from their treatments and for families to help them remain well.”

Mobile apps on the rise in pharma

Pharmaceutical and other life science companies are becoming increasingly aware of mobile applications’ potential to boost the effectiveness of their communication.

According to Cutting Edge Information, a US company that provides management analysis reports, support services and consulting to pharmaceutical biotechnology companies globally, apps also hold the key to pharma digital marketing in the future.

Casey Ferrell, research analyst at Cutting Edge, said: “Apps for physicians hold the potential to revolutionise the way in which healthcare is administered.

“There are digital imaging apps for ECGs and radiological procedures; there are apps that improve emergency room efficiency; and there are apps designed to improve patient-physician interaction, including some that facilitate remote consultations.”

Other research from Cutting Edge Information study shows many early implementers of apps and mobile technology are now finding that the pre-launch commercialisation period presents the best phase for successfully utilising mobile pharma technology.

Ferrell said: “”I would argue there is an opportunity for the industry to shift its focus and look for innovative ways to use mobile technology to improve clinical development.

“From streamlining trial data collection and analysis, to connecting potential trial patients to investigators, the clinical development space is an opportunity for pharma companies to differentiate themselves from the pack.”

FDA releases new off-label social media guidelines

The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded 2011 by announcing new social media marketing guidelines for pharmaceutical companies.
The FDA released its “Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices” document, which mentions Twitter and YouTube.

The 15-page guidance document addresses off-label information, telling pharma companies how they should respond to consumers who are looking for information for a prescription drug on aspects outside of its intended use.

Some critics say that the advice given is too ambiguous – a comment that the FDA refutes.

Karen Mahoney, an FDA spokeswoman, said: “We understand the level of interest and wanted to get out what we had available to provide guidance.”

“This is just the first of multiple planned guidances that respond to testimony and comments from the Part 15 public hearing that FDA held in November 2009.”

In the guidance document, the FDA writes: “FDA recognizes that it can be in the best interest of public health for a firm to respond to unsolicited requests for information about off-label uses of the firm’s products that are addressed to a public forum, as other participants in the forum who offer responses may not provide or have access to the most accurate and up-to-date information about the firm’s products.

“Statements that promote a drug or medical device for uses other than those approved or cleared by FDA may be used as evidence of a new intended use. Introducing a product into commerce for such a new intended use without FDA approval or clearance would, under these requirements, generally violate the law.”